Teacher Kathy Elliott can spot a budding surgeon in her pre-AP biology class as soon as it’s time to dissect a rat.
“If they can get out the reproductive system, especially in the male rat, I can tell who’s got a chance [to be a surgeon],’’ Elliott said. “This is delicate work.”
Whether they are dissecting rats or burning food to measure calories, students at the Texas Academy of Biomedical Sciences are building skills for careers in the medical world, TABS Principal Troy Langston said.
They are training to become biomedical researchers, doctors, forensic scientists, biomedical engineers, veterinarians, pharmacists, nurses and emergency medical technicians. The school, which opened in 2011, graduates its first class this year.
Senior Maria Almuina, 18, who is among the 87-student graduating class, said she hopes to become a pediatric nurse.
“This is amazing,’’ Almuina said. “My brother is a freshmen here, too. We’re all trying to get into the medical field. That is the best way to go.”
TABS is an early college high school partnership between the Fort Worth school district, the Tarrant County College District’s Trinity River Campus and the University of North Texas Health Science Center.
The early college high school program, which is endorsed by the state, encourages students to graduate with a high school diploma and 48 to 60 hours of transferable college credit. Students also can graduate from TABS with work-ready certifications as pharmacy and phlebotomy technicians, according to the district’s course catalog.
“This is our first graduating class,’’ said Langston, a former scientist who worked as a zoologist at the Fort Worth Zoo before becoming a school administrator. “I’m very excited and proud.”
Langston opened TABS in fall 2011. Today, it enrolls more than 300 students on two separate campuses. Freshmen and sophomore students are at TABS on Valentine Street. Juniors and seniors take courses at the Trinity River Campus of the Tarrant County College District. The youngsters also visit the University of North Texas Health Science Center on Camp Bowie Boulevard for additional support.
“We’re the only school in the area that is combining the biomedical sciences, a STEM field, with an early college high school,’’ Langston said.
“This is an opportunity for all children who get into an early college high school program to stretch themselves intellectually, to be encouraged to use their native intelligence, to explore fields that they think they would be good in,’’ said Tahita Fulkerson, president of the Trinity River Campus.
By the time Almuina graduates in a few months, she will have a patient care license. That document will open doors, she said.
“I’m looking forward to getting a job,’’ said Almuina, who plans to attend Texas Woman’s University in Denton in the fall.
Prep program ignites interest
One way TABS students become interested in science is at a prep TABS program started at Stripling Middle School in recent years, said Michael Sorum, Fort Worth deputy superintendent of leadership, learning and student support.
Enrollment at Stripling grew after the prep TABS program was offered, Sorum said. In 2009, the school had 511 students and was rated academically unacceptable by the state, Sorum said. In 2014, he said, it had 674 students and was awarded academic achievement distinctions, including in social studies.
“The enrollment was very low at Stripling because kids were going to other schools,’’ Sorum said. “Now they are going to their neighborhood school and it is bursting at the seams.”
David Lee Gonzalez, now a TABS senior, said his interest in science began at Stripling.
“It was just fascinating learning about how life works,’’ said Gonzalez, 18.
Many of the lessons at TABS are conducted with hands-on lab and microscope experiments, Langston said.
A popular activity is a routine lab that measures the caloric component of food, Elliott said.
“They burn food to see what food has the most energy,’’ he said.
This spring, Almuina and Gonzales and other TABS students are looking forward to using new technology in equipment recently delivered to the program at the Trinity River Campus in downtown Fort Worth. The Anatomage table, Langston said, is a life-size flat screen that sits on a horizontal table. A computer program provides a three-dimensional portrait of the human body, he said.
“It shows different systems and students can cut out different slices of the body,’’ Langston said.
As she listened to the principal talk about the new technology on a recent Wednesday afternoon, Almuina smiled.
“I’m very excited,’’ she said. “I’m the first student in my family to go to college.”
Yamil Berard, 817-390-7705